The Bald and the Beautiful
by Barbara Quick
What surprised me most about going to my 20th high school reunion was how good the women looked while so many of the men showed their age.
After hearing the same observation repeated by others returning from their school reunions, I grew suspicious.
The wrinkle fairy does not discriminate between genders. Nor does the patron saint of thickened waistlines. For every balding, potbellied man on the street there is an age-marked female counterpart.
What I realized when I applied myself to the conundrum of the reunion is that most of the women who don't look good don't go, whereas the men aren't aware of whether they look good or not. Thus we walk away with the illusion that the men have aged, while the women, magically, have been preserved in all their youthful glory.
For a female en route to meet her classmates of yesteryear, looking good is the best revenge, especially if she hadn't yet come into her own when those pert, blond cheerleaders were at their peak. There can be tremendous satisfaction in knowing that you've ripened rather than gone to seed.
For the men the reunion can come as a rude awakening. "Who are those middle-aged men?" they think as they cast their eyes about the room, looking at each other in disbelief, their smiles frozen on their faces.
The men haven't been looking faithfully, dutifully, despairingly in the mirror several times a day for the past 20 years. When they do look in a mirror, they are focussed on the region of their jaw — and their reason for looking has more to do with safety than vanity.
If a middle-aged man does catch sight of himself in a full-length mirror or shop window, he's 99.9 percent sure to suck in his gut in a panic of optimism, sigh ever so softly, and then turn away. He doesn't dwell on the shock or disappointment of reality's report card.
He doesn't go out and buy expensive cosmetics or vow to start wearing sunscreen every day. He's able to shake off the vision and go back to thinking of himself as once again possessed of an 18-year-old's body and skin.
A woman, on the other hand, has better than 20/20 vision when it comes to reality in all its fabulous detail. She cannot ignore an overflowing wastebasket or a sink full of dirty dishes, the fact that her child's diaper has absorbed as much pee as it possibly can, or the bit of rice pilaf that manages to stick, through the entire dessert course, on the Velcro of her husband's jaw.
Perhaps because of her enhanced powers of perception, she experiences life more richly and fully than her mate does. But he is not assaulted as she is at every turn by all the parts of life that need fixing. He can relax with ease whereas she can only relax when she is asleep, unconscious or dead.
I think I'd like to start acting more like a man in this regard. I want to go to my next reunion, if I go at all, in utter innocence, with no ax to grind and no point to prove. Let me be as surprised as a virgin having sex for the first time. And then let me put my shattered illusions on a shelf deep inside me, where they can be woven over with the webs of memory and imagination.
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